Pasta With Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto and Sausage

1 cup sun dried tomatoes packed in olive oil divided into ¼ cup and ¾ cup tomatoes
2 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil from tomatoes
¼ teaspoon salt

12-oz pasta, gemelli, rigatoni, bow tie, etc.
1-lb. 96 to 98% fat free sweet or spicy Italian turkey or chicken sausage (3 – 3 ½ grams fat per 1oz serving)
½ teaspoon fennel seed
Olive oil cooking spray
2 cloves minced or pressed garlic
4 cups washed baby spinach leaves
½ cup 50% less fat cream cheese, softened (4 ounces)
1 ¼ cups fat free half and half
¼ teaspoon salt
fresh ground black pepper to taste
12 tablespoons fresh grated Parmesan or Asiago Cheese (2 tablespoons per serving)

To prepare pesto, drain sun-dried tomatoes in a sieve over a bowl, pressing out as much of the oil as possible from tomatoes reserving oil. Coarsely chop ¼ cup tomatoes and set aside. Place ¾ cup tomatoes in food processor along with 1 tablespoon reserved tomato olive oil, basil leaves, garlic and salt. Return unused oil to sun-dried tomato jar for future use.

In a large pot of water cook pasta until al dente, pour off ½ cup of pasta cooking water then rinse and drain pasta and set aside.

Heat a large skillet or casserole over medium high heat. Remove casings from sausage. Add sausage and fennel to pan. Reduce heat to medium breaking up sausage into smaller pieces as meat cooks. Once sausage is browned, remove from heat and transfer meat to paper towels to drain off any excess grease if necessary. Set sausage aside.

Return pan to burner preheat over medium-high, add garlic and sauté until lightly browned. Reduce heat to medium add spinach to pan and sauté until wilted about 1 minute. Stir in pesto, fat free half and half and cream cheese stirring constantly until blended. Add sausage to sauce and cook 1 minute stirring constantly.

Add pasta to sauce and toss well to coat and continue to cook stirring often until heated through approximately 1 to 2 minutes more. If sauce becomes too thick add a little skim milk or free half and half. Remove from heat.

To serve, divide pasta among 6 large shallow serving bowls and sprinkle each with reserved chopped sun-dried tomatoes and 2 tablespoons additional hard cheese.

Yield 4 servings each at 570 calories; 12 grams total fat; 5.8 grams saturated fat; 44 milligrams cholesterol; 70 gram total carbohydrate; 8 grams dietary fiber; 30.5 grams protein; 1350 milligrams sodium

Traditional recipe made with regular cream cheese and regular half and half with 1/3 cup grated cheese weights in at 758 calories and 46 grams total fat compared to 570 calories and 12 grams total fat.

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